Contemporary challenges facing Catholicism: Interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah

Contemporary challenges facing Catholicism: Interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah

Élisabeth de Baudoüin

In this exclusive interview, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, candidly discusses liturgical battles, criticism of the Pope, same sex marriage, Islam and Islamism, and how Africa can save the West.

The interview was conducted in Paris where Cardinal Sarah, who was born in Guinea, launched his book God or Nothing, written in collaboration with author Nicolas Diat.

Q: Your Eminence, in your book God or Nothing, you mention several times the "liturgical war" that has been dividing Catholics for decades. You say that this war is particularly unfortunate because Catholics should be especially united on this issue. How can we get beyond these divisions and unite all Catholics in worshipping God?

Cardinal Robert Sarah: Vatican II never asked us to reject the past and abandon the Mass of St. Pius V, which spawned many saints, nor discard Latin. But at the same time we must promote the liturgical reform sought by the Council itself. The liturgy is the special place where we meet God face-to-face, bring Him our whole life, our work, and make an offering of all this to his glory. We cannot celebrate the liturgy while taking up arms: carrying on our shoulders weapons of hate, combat, resentment. Jesus Himself said, "Before presenting your offering, first be reconciled to your brother." In this "face-to-face" with God, our heart must be pure, free of all hatred, all rancour. Each person must remove from his heart anything that might cast a shadow on this meeting. This involves respecting everyone's sensitivity.

Q: Is this not precisely what Benedict XVI wanted?

Cardinal Sarah: Yes, this is the meaning of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (July 2007). Benedict XVI put a lot of energy and hope into this work. Alas, he was not totally successful because people "clung" to their specific rite and mutually excluded each other. In the Church, everyone should be able to celebrate according to his or her own sensitivity. It is one of the conditions of reconciliation. Attention should also be paid to the beauty of the liturgy, its sacredness. The Eucharist is not a "dinner with friends", it is a sacred mystery. If it is celebrated with fervour and beauty, an understanding will certainly be reached. However, we must not forget that it is God who reconciles, and this will take time.

Q: In a chapter on the Popes, you mention the criticism that they were subjected to, even within the Church. Francis is no exception: some Catholics criticise his style, what he does, what he says, his expressions ... There is a feeling that one wing of the Church does not trust him to keep the deposit of faith. What should the faithful's attitude be in regard to the Pope? Can a Catholic criticise the successor of Peter?

Cardinal Sarah: The answer is very simple, it is found here: what should one think of a son or daughter who criticises his father or his mother publicly? How could people have respect for him? The Pope is our father. We owe him respect, affection and trust (even if criticism does not seem to bother him). Reading certain documents or statements, one might get the impression that he does not respect the doctrine. Personally, I fully trust him and I encourage all Christians to do the same. You have to be serene and calm as he sails the boat. Jesus is with him, He who said to Peter: "I have prayed for you, that your faith may ... strengthen your brothers." A conclave is an action of God, it is God who gives a Pope to the Church. God gave us Francis to lead the Church today.

Q: About the "powers in Europe who seek to prevent Catholics from exercising their freedom," you write, "The Manif pour tous* is an example of initiatives that are necessary. It was a manifestation of the genius of Christianity." Your Eminence, do you support the Christians who took to the streets by thousands to demonstrate their commitment to the family and the fact that every child needs a father and a mother?

(The "Manif pour tous" is a French national collective which has hosted peaceful demonstrations to oppose the "Same-Sex Marriage" bill.)

Cardinal Sarah: Our mission as Christians is to witness to our faith. We know that the family is a reality desired by God. We know what it means for the Church and society; without it, there is no future, neither for the one nor the other. So the Manif pour tous is a way for Christians who defend this reality to witness their faith. I do not hesitate to affirm: I fully support this event in its various forms. They are an expression of fidelity to the Church and to the faith.

Q: However, at first glance, it has failed!

Cardinal Sarah: Christ also apparently failed: after three years of public life, he was killed, laid in the tomb and the tomb was sealed! But he is risen and has conquered evil. The Manif pour tous, in its various expressions, could not prevent political decisions. But it achieved a great victory: it managed to reinvigorate families. This is its big win. Because of this, it must continue. This is not a one-time action. We must continue to write, to go out, and demonstrate! And we should also encourage solid homes that ensure that love endures and does not die.

Q: What do you mean?

Cardinal Sarah: Love is like a flower in the desert, we must water it and guard it to prevent the animals from eating it. How do we protect love? With daily attention. How do we water it? With forgiveness. We must also take care of this plant, through prayer, attachment and dialogue. Without this, the plant, love, dies. A plant cannot survive if it is not sustained. However, the great gardener is God. If a family rejects Him, it does not last. Demonstrating, that's good. But we must take care of our families. We must ensure that love, that precious gift, is kept alive in the heart of spouses and lived in the family.

Q: In Europe, the spread of Islam and its demineralization cause concern. You who come from a predominantly Muslim country where Christians and Muslims live in peace, and speak of Islam as "a religion of peace and brotherhood," what are your feelings on this?

Cardinal Sarah: Where does our fear come from? Islam has been present in Europe for a long time and no one has ever been afraid of it. It is true that there were fewer Muslims. But at the time, faith was stronger. Also, the sense of threat did not exist or only marginally. In Guinea, the population is 5% Catholic and 73% Muslim. But we are not afraid of each other. Instead, we stimulate each other through fidelity to our faith. Seeing the Muslims, for whom the importance of prayer and direct communication with God is essential, Christians must ask themselves: I believe in the true God, manifested through Christ: am I as fervent as the Muslims are? Do I fast? God is not someone with whom you are in contact occasionally, when you have time. He must be the first: in the family, in society ... All Christians are called to increase their relationship with Him. Prayer is also necessary, on both sides, for everyone to live in peace.

Q: In this regard, you often tell a Muslim legend ...

Cardinal Sarah: Yes, it's the story about a shepherdess who was considered a little crazy, her sheep peacefully coexisted with the wolves. When asked for an explanation, she replied: "I improved my relationship with God, and God has improved the relationship between the wolves and my sheep." God gives peace among men, through prayer.

Q: This is a far cry from the violent behaviour of radical Islam! How do you explain that?

Cardinal Sarah: The cartoons that target Islam (among others) do not promote brotherly coexistence. As the Pope said, we should not insult other people's faith. We do not have the right, just because we do not share someone's faith, to insult it and caricature it. This must stop! But true Muslims have never murdered anyone. Those who behead, crucify or slaughter in the name of God are projecting all their violence on an idea they have made of God. In my country, Muslims are horrified by these crimes and these beings who are men in name only.

In dealing with Islam, do you think that the West is playing with fire?

Cardinal Sarah: As Benedict XVI, who was worried about this, pointed out, God has never been as strongly rejected as today. If the West does not return to its Christian culture and values, the situation could become life threatening. But I think a time will come when Westerners will realise that they cannot continue to live without God. In this context, Africa can help.

Q: In your book, you talk a lot about Africa, its sufferings, the ideological colonialism of which it is the object, but also its values. In your opinion, what can Africa bring to the world and the Church today?

Cardinal Sarah: God has always involved Africa in his plan for salvation. Africa saved Jesus, at the time of the flight into Egypt. It is an African, Simon of Cyrene, who helped him carry his cross. Africa has suffered a lot. Its values ??were denied (and still are, through what Pope Francis calls ideological colonialism, and in particular regarding the gender theory). It experienced slavery. The Africans' suffering prompted John Paul II [who also announced that it would surprise the world, ed.] to say that their names are written "on the palms of Christ, pierced by the nails of the Crucifixion".  But in a few decades, the Church there has greatly developed, with many priestly and religious vocations, so that blessed Paul VI called it "the new homeland of Christ." And as Africans are also deeply religious and cannot be separated from God, they are the ones who will restore God to the world.

Q: Perhaps Africa will give the next Pope to the Church?

Cardinal Sarah: (laughs) What a question! (Then, after reflection) It is God who gives the Pope ...

And Nicolas Diat, co-author of God or Nothing and present at this meeting, added: "Ask the Lord! And if you get an answer, give it to me!"

(Interviewed for Aleteia by Élisabeth de Baudoüin. Reprinted with permission.)

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